Intimate Photos of the Largest Homeless Population in the Country

Photographer Suzanne Stein captured the soul of Skid Row so that the most vulnerable population could have a voice.

May 30, 2018

One day, on a trip into the Los Angeles neighborhood of Little Tokyo with her son, photographer Suzanne Stein stumbled upon the nearby district of Skid Row. Here resides one of the largest homeless populations in the United States. While the total population of this area is roughly 17,000, which includes some 5,000 to 8,000 homeless residents, one prominent work of street art in the neighborhood mimics a city limit sign that simply lists Skid Row’s population as “Too Many.”

It’s a neighborhood that most in the city stay clear of. When Stein first came across the area, she had just begun her foray into photography. She found the neighborhood to not only be “a kaleidoscope of sight, sound, smell, and disbelief,” but more importantly, a side of America that many would never get to know intimately. She wanted to give people a door into the world of Skid Row by portraying the soul of the neighborhood through her photography.

“I want people to appreciate the art of street photography at its most basic: the portrayal of a time, a place, an essence that characterizes a neighborhood and its people. What a place looks and feels like as opposed to soulless and irrelevant ‘great shots’,” Stein tells Herb.

Skid Row 10 Congress Blocks Recreational Marijuana Sales In Washington, D.C.
Photo by Suzanne Stein Photography

In talking to the homeless residents of Skid Row, Stein found a gap in the type of reasons people chose to live there. In Stein’s opinion, if there’s one word to accurately describe the situation that led many to reside on the streets of Skid Row, it’s “neglect.”

“It all comes back to that one word….parental neglect, societal….every possible interpretation,” says Stein. But there also exists a subset of the population—the other side of the gap—that Stein describes as being there for “the opportunity to exploit the drug addicted and mentally ill populations. People make money from the more vulnerable: money lending/loan sharking, and drug dealing.”

Many see this cycle of poverty and exploitation as Skid Row’s natural state, destined to repeat itself in perpetuity. And if the only way you experience this neighborhood is from the window of a moving car, that’s how it’s more likely to appear. But far from being inevitable, Stein see’s this as a cycle born from complacency and a fundamental misunderstanding of the people who inhabit Skid Row. Change is always possible, believes Stein—if only more people could get to know the area more intimately, to “open their minds a bit,” and “stop being put off by people in differing circumstances.”

Skid Row 9  Congress Blocks Recreational Marijuana Sales In Washington, D.C.
Photo by Suzanne Stein Photography
Skid Row 7 Congress Blocks Recreational Marijuana Sales In Washington, D.C.
Photo by Suzanne Stein Photography
Skid Row 2 Congress Blocks Recreational Marijuana Sales In Washington, D.C.
Photo by Suzanne Stein Photography
Skid Row 8 Congress Blocks Recreational Marijuana Sales In Washington, D.C.
Photo by Suzanne Stein Photography
Skid Row 5 Congress Blocks Recreational Marijuana Sales In Washington, D.C.
Photo by Suzanne Stein Photography
Skid Row 3 Congress Blocks Recreational Marijuana Sales In Washington, D.C.
Photo by Suzanne Stein Photography
Skid Row 4 Congress Blocks Recreational Marijuana Sales In Washington, D.C.
Photo by Suzanne Stein Photography
Skid Row 6 Congress Blocks Recreational Marijuana Sales In Washington, D.C.
Photo by Suzanne Stein Photography
May 30, 2018